Consider what the next mayor faces when it comes to improving public education: A deficit that was estimated last year at $700 million. Frustrated teachers, asked to do a tough and (mostly) thankless job. Grassroots activists and a union that want to undercut City Hall’s power over schools. Test scores that have yet to approach national averages.
So what’s the new mayor to do? Consider what the next mayor faces when it comes to improving public education: A deficit that was estimated last year at $700 million. Frustrated teachers, asked to do a tough and (mostly) thankless job. Grassroots activists and a union that want to undercut City Hall’s power over schools. Test scores that have yet to approach national averages.
So what’s the new mayor to do?
To find out, Catalyst Chicago and partners WBEZ/Chicago Public Media, WTTW-Channel 11, and the Chicago News Cooperative developed an education questionnaire to help the public understand what to expect from each of the candidates on hot-button political issues, like mayoral control and closing schools, as well as perennial issues of teaching and learning, such as extending the school day and making it easier to dismiss poorly-performing teachers.
Some of the answers, frankly, were little more than standard feel-good boilerplate. Savvy voters know that going hat-in-hand to Springfield for more money is not enough to close the deficit, even with the state’s recent income tax increase. And turning to private money for schools may pay off in the short term, but over the long haul, puts quality education on a shaky foundation.
Other answers reflected a response to public pressure from activists and parents. Probably none of the candidates would even have mentioned tax increment financing without the recent chorus of voices clamoring for more transparency on TIF dollars, and for steering that money back to schools instead of developers’ tax breaks. And without those same voices, the next mayor could continue school closings—there are plenty of under-enrolled or failing schools—without considering how to bring the community to the decision table.
Here are the responses from each of the candidates currently in the race (in alphabetical order): Gery Chico, Miguel del Valle, Rahm Emanuel, Carol Moseley Braun, Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, William Walls III, , and Fredrick White.
1.Do you want control of the Chicago Public Schools? If so, how should Board of Education members be selected? Should some of them be elected?
2. Do you believe the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools should be an educator? Why or why not? What are the main qualities you would look for?
3. Should the School Board conduct a national search for a new schools chief?
4. Chicago has the shortest school day among large, urban districts. What would you do about that?
5. CPS is looking at another enormous deficit for the 2011-2012 school year – under the teachers union contract, salaries are scheduled to rise another 4 percent, and federal stimulus money will be gone. How do you get out of that mess?
6. Would you support the closing of low-performing and under-enrolled schools? Why or why not?
7. Would you support the continued expansion of charter schools in Chicago? Why or why not?
8. Do you think it is too hard to fire bad teachers who have tenure? If so, what do you think should be done about that?
9. Should seniority govern teacher layoffs? If not, how would you recommend that future layoffs be handled?
10. In New York and Los Angeles, controversy has erupted over whether teacher evaluations should be made public or shared with parents. Is that a good idea? Would you push to share evaluations with parents in Chicago?
11. Do schools have a role in stopping youth violence? If so, what should schools do, and how would you support their efforts?
12. What would success with your education agenda look like at the end of your first term?